As the days start to get warmer and we prepare for picnics in the park and drinking in pub gardens, many of us are excited to catch some rays and get a tan. However, many people are unaware of the significant risks that come with UV rays on both sunny and cloudy days and why we should ensure that we protect out skin.
Although we associate wearing sunscreen with Summer and hot weather, we should really be wearing an SPF every single day. Yes that’s right, 365 days a year. It may not seem like it but UV rays are always present during the day no matter the weather.
What are UV rays?
The sun transmits UV rays in 3 different wavelengths – UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC is unable to penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere so we don’t really need to worry about those.
UVA penetrates deeper into the skin and can penetrate through windows. UVA is associated with skin ageing as it affects the elastin in the skin which can lead to wrinkles, leather skin and skin cancer.
UVB is mostly responsible for sunburn. According to the British Association for Dermatologists, UVB also has strong links with malignant melanoma and basal cell carcinoma which are types of skin cancer.
It is therefore super important to choose a SPF which has both UVA and UVB protection. Since harmful UV rays are present every day and all year round, it’s to wear a daily SPF to prevent early ageing, damaging our skin and skin cancer. It’s also a good idea to still wear SPF when you’re staying inside as the rays can still damage your skin via the windows.
What About My Tan?
I’ve got some bad news for you – a tan is just a sign that your skin has been damaged by UV rays. Although we often associate tanned skin with a healthy looking complexion it’s actually a sign that you’re skin is trying to defend itself against further sun damage. There is no such thing as getting a ‘safe’ tan.
What to Look for in a Sunscreen
Sunscreens can seem complicated and confusing with their star rating systems and SPF ratings. Let me break it down for you – if your sunscreen has UVA protection in the UK it will have a star rating system. The rating system ranges from 0 to 5 and indicates the amount of UVA radiation that the sunscreen absorbs in comparison to UVB. It’s basically a ratio between the amount of protection against UVA and the protection against UVB. The higher the star rating the more protection it offers.
The SPF number is a little bit more straight forward. The number is a scale from 2 to 50+ and indicates the level of protection they offer. An SPF of 6-14 is considered low protection, SPF 15-29 is medium protection, SPF 30-50 is high protection and anything over 50 is very high protection. It’s generally recommended that SPF 30 is a satisfactory level of sun protection as long as you follow the other guidance of sitting in the shade and wearing t-shirt and hat.
SPF generally shows the level of the protection against UVB (burning) rather than UVA. A general rule of thumb to go buy is to opt for a sunscreen that has both a high UVA star rating a high SPF rating too. This is sometimes referred to as “broad spectrum”.
Sunscreen will only offer the protection is we apply it properly and use enough product. Sadly, that’s not something people are generally that good at. Studies show that most people apply less than half the amount required to provide the protection offered on the packaging. As there’s lots of different types of sunscreen (e.g. mousses, sprays, gels etc.) it’s hard to give a general rule of thumb on how much to use. However, if you’re using a standard sun lotion, the bare minimum should be approximately 6 full tea spoons for your whole body but the more the better. SPF queen Demi Colleen suggests that you use “two fingers full” of SPF for your face. It is also recommended that you apply your SPF as the last product you apply to your skin so make sure you use any moisturisers and serums before your SPF. Apply your chosen sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going outside and re-apply every 2 hours. If you’re swimming, using a towel or sweating, reapply ASAP.
To prevent spots on your face, make sure you take off your make up and SPF before going to bed. I find it best to double cleanse – first with an oil based cleanser. This will really make sure you have got rid of all the products, including SPF, that have built up on your face and hopefully prevent any breakouts.
SPF in Moisturisers
Some moisturisers state that they have an SPF. Whilst the SPF in these products is tested in the same way, they aren’t as rub and water resistant as standard sunscreens and we usually apply them much more thinly. There’s also no guarantee that they will offer UVA protection. As a result it’s unlikely that they are going to offer the same level of protection. It’s recommended that you use a separate SPF.
SPF doesn’t accumulate either. If your moisturiser, primer and foundation are all SPF 15 this does not mean you are technically wearing SPF 45.
To put it simply – UVA and UVB radiation is present every single day and they can cause skin damage from burning and ageing to skin cancer. When choosing an SPF it’s best to go for one with a high SPF number (at least 30) and a high UVA star rating for ultimate protection.
For more information on SPF I would recommend checking out the following: